Paris Saint-Germain travel to face OGC Nice on Friday and have the chance to open up a 13-point gap at the top of Ligue 1. AS Monaco trail the French champions by 10 points after failing to beat Lille OSC at home last week, but the gap has not been that substantial all season.
With their UEFA Champions League quarter-final clash against Chelsea looming, PSG coach Laurent Blanc needs to rotate his side in order to have every player in the best condition possible for next Wednesday’s Parc des Princes first leg.
At the Allianz Riviera on Friday, the Parisian coach will almost certainly ring the changes, although les Aiglons are in no way a straightforward opponent under Claude Puel’s tutelage and sit in 11th place at present.
The game represents a good opportunity to bring in a number of fringe players and that is what Blanc is likely to do.
But in which areas should he be looking to rotate?
PSG need Edinson Cavani to be back to something approaching his best form come the Chelsea encounter and the Nice match on Friday is the perfect opportunity to help him rediscover his appetite for goals, having scored just three times in 10 appearances in all competitions since the start of 2014.
Although the Championnat title is still not yet won, the capital club’s 10-point advantage means that resting Zlatan Ibrahimovic is a possibility worth considering.
It might have been better giving him a breather in the second leg of the last round against Bayer Leverkusen, with the French giants 4-0 up, rather than in the league. But Blanc opted to select both the Swede and Cavani though, in an attempt to help El Matador re-acclimatise to his teammates after a prolonged absence.
The PSG tactician has the chance to right this possible wrong, perhaps by falling back on his early season method of alternating the two and giving them 45 minutes each. It is not ideal, especially as they will need to play together against Chelsea, but it could be what is needed to break Cavani out of his recent malaise.
If Blanc were to do this, Lucas Moura would likely come in to replace one of the two out wide. Cavani’s best position is through the middle so, assuming that it is he who starts, the Brazilian would play on the right with the in-form Ezequiel Lavezzi probably kept on the left.
Jeremy Menez is another possibility in one of those wide positions, but he looks to have fallen so far out of favour that a return before the end of the season now looks unlikely. Javier Pastore is also an option in Lavezzi’s wide left role, but the Argentine playmaker could also be started as one of the three central midfielders.
Blanc is likely to want to preserve his favoured trio of Thiago Motta, Blaise Matuidi and Marco Verratti for the Chelsea clash, so a fully rotated midfield unit in Nice is not an unrealistic expectation.
Yohan Cabaye and Adrien Rabiot are the two other players who can expect to find themselves starting on the Cote d’Azur.
However, Rabiot has been out of the picture completely in recent weeks and is suspected to have angered Blanc with his off-the-field behaviour and his reticence to pen an extended contract with the club just yet.
That leaves just the back line for Blanc to worry about.
With Thiago Silva almost certain to miss out as a precaution, having taking a blow to the head against FC Lorient last week which now requires a protective mask, Marquinhos looks set for a second consecutive start.
Gregory van der Wiel is thought to be struggling to be fit in time for Chelsea, let alone Nice, so Christophe Jallet looks set to continue at right-back. Alex will probably come in instead of Silva, while Maxwell is likely to make way for Lucas Digne.
Although PSG have paid the price for near-total rotation of the squad in the past, the team’s momentum is such that at this time these changes are unlikely to have the same negative impact that they did when the team travelled to face Evian Thonon Gaillard back in December.
With their commanding lead at the top of Ligue 1, the French champions can afford to take the risk in order to ensure that they are in the best shape possible to host Chelsea. However, it is Cavani's form in front of goal that must take priority ahead of next week's clash.
Being able to win at Nice having made such a volume of changes would also underline just how much strength in depth PSG possess in comparison to title rivals Monaco.
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